It is now a century since the Irish poet W. B. Yeats responded to the Easter uprising in 1916 leading to violence and death of many young men with the memorable lines: “everything changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.” His lines apply quite aptly to our times. If the first two decades of the twenty-first century left the world changed in many fundamental ways, 2021 has further accelerated the pace of the change. The public discourse may not have highlighted the changes; but that does not mean that they did not take place. In fact, the serious disconnect between reality and its perception too is part of that change.
If the Corona virus was a new virus, the experience of epidemic was in no way new to humans. There have been in the past other epidemics, plagues and natural disasters. Yet, the amount of attention paid in the public sphere to the Pandemic world over was something unprecedented. The TV space has remained predominantly occupied over the last two years, 2020 & 2021, by discussion related to public health and government regulations. However, there have been other issues deserving an equal degree of attention. These include: the political eco-system that is no longer conducive to the 20th century ideas of democracy; the siege of the human intellect by artificial intelligence; defeat of western forces by Taliban in Afghanistan; and most importantly the extreme degeneration of the environment. It was during this year that the fate of the Brexit was finally sealed, conclusively leaving broken the promise of turning the world into a global village. Covid has already made the world more disconnected than ever before, as nation after nation brought in area restrictions on free movement of people even within their own countries.
Despite the end of the Donald Trump presidency in the US, the political eco-system continues to consolidate orthodoxies and conservatism in an extreme degree. Democracy, where it still survives, showed signs of an unfathomable fatigue in 2021. Civil liberties remained curtailed through most part of the year. Fundamentalists and their non-state armies achieved greater success in capturing social spaces and institutional havens. Violence of a shockingly brutal variety and terrorism of many shades became the every-day narrative. State surveillance and invasion of citizens’ privacy were the order of the day. The free-wheeling capital and the tax-evading digital currencies, together, have widened the gap between the super rich and the larger part of the humanity. While, in most countries the employment statistics hit the rock bottom, the wealth of the wealthy few has risen beyond ordinary comprehension. The inter-locking between artificial intelligence and the human intellect continued to alter the business of being human. Natural languages kept approaching the condition of a collective aphasia. Literature continued to move closer to media creating a new heady amalgam of the natural and the digital, the post-truth. The arts, cinema and theatre scene remained lack-lustre. These are reasons for one to remember 2021 as an eminently forgettable year.
The 2021 highlighted the nature of the crisis within which ideas, ideologies and nations are trapped. In the past, identity was a question of race, religion, nation, gender and language. In 2021, identity is getting increasingly aligned with technologies; and communication and digital technology satraps more powerful than States. Donna Haraway, has commented “in the late twentieth century, our time, a mythical time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism, in short, we are Cyborgs. The Cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.” In 2021, her words sound truer than before. It was this year when robots started receiving citizenship identity numbers, a step towards their being counted as political entities in near future. The out-sourced memory of humans, now held by machines, is substantively non-temporal, all of it having a static relation with the present moment. It is as if history, or rather the idea of history, has come to a dead-end. At this juncture of the temporal-stasis, the human intellect appears to have started moving not ahead but sideways, into a new culture of man-machine-mind.
In tune with these global changes, India witnessed the unfolding of clashes between the State and the international IT corporate; weakening of the federal structure of the country and increased attacks on the principles embedded in the constitution; continuously falling employment, coupled with sharp rise in fuel and gas prices; greater internal militarisation of sub-regions and clashes between the armed forces and citizens; turning back to hoary past in search of reasons to feel proud about being Indians and a miserable performance on the front of science and medicine; death by shortage of Oxygen, both medical and environmental and denial by the state as well as the fudging of data. If in this year of darkness on all horizons, one could see a silver lining, it was the glorious non-violent struggle of the farmers leading to the repeal of the farm laws. It kept one’s faith in people’s movement as a path to social transformation alive. Another, silver lining was the performance of sports persons in the Olympics and in other competitive sports. However, these are silver-lines amidst deepening darkness. The end of a year is normally the time to celebrate Christmas. The Christmas 2021 was the time when churches were being vandalized and prayer meetings were being attacked by hinudtva fundamentalists, quite clearly supported by the state. One likes to hope that 2022 will usher in a change. However, only electoral victories cannot be seen as sign of any change. The minds of the young generation in India have been filled with the poison of hatred and contempt. Sections of the middle class still have the arrogance coming out of their relative affluence. And the political class is clueless as to the future that most Indians wish to see for themselves. All of us have to be working on many fronts for changing this condition, through 2022 and much beyond it. Let me wish all those who are keen to work towards that change, a year of fulfilment.
Author is a renowned thinker, writer and cultural activist based in Karnataka.
Haraway, Donna. ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London: Rout ledge. 1991.
Yeats, W. B. ‘Easter 1916.’ In Selected Poems. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Timothy web. London: Penguin. 1991.